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Pulling the Pin

Photo by taichi nakamura on Unsplash

Last week I had a day where I felt "less than.” I was online looking for a writing class or a way to meet some other writers. I used to have a group for this, but we all disbanded a couple of years ago and went our separate ways.

I clicked around the world wide abyss and found my way to the works of some wildly successful contemporary essayists. After reading several essays, I began to feel inferior. The essays were really, really good. Each author had websites detailing their long lists of publications and awards.

I realized how far I still have to go, and wondered how I will ever get there.

This isn’t the first time I’ve felt this. It’s probably the reason I’ve abandoned my writing so many times before. It’s easier to walk away, to give some excuse about having writer’s block, or not enough time, than it is to keep going.

In Turning Pro, Steven Pressfield calls this “pulling the pin.” He learned this term during the season he spent picking apples with migrant workers in Washington when he was 29. He writes:

“The term ‘pulling the pin’ comes from the old days of riding the rails. To uncouple one car from another, the train crew pulled a heavy steel pin out of the coupling mechanism.

In migrant lingo, pulling the pin meant quitting. You’d wake up and the bunk next to you would be empty. ‘What happened to Jim?’ ‘He pulled the pin.’”

Pressfield says he pulled the pin on his first novel, on his marriage, and on most everything in his life.

I’ve pulled the pin on my writing too. Many times. And I had a moment on Thursday when I thought about doing it again. I was thinking, “I’ll never be that good. Why bother?”

But as soon as the thought hit me, another did as well: If I were to stop now, it would only mean I’d have to start all over again someday.

I had this realization when I quit smoking too. It was my 7th or 8th try and I had made it a couple of months without a cigarette. I was just starting to get over the massive discomfort that had been following me around and was beginning to feel normal again. The depression, and the feelings of isolation, anger and confusion were receding.

I knew that I had crossed a threshold. I still had a long way to go, but I had come too far to turn around. Should I cave in and take one sweet drag of a cigarette, I would have to go through the pain of quitting again.

I know this is also true of my writing now. I've spent the last five months writing diligently. It hasn't always been painless. But every writer (or artist, chef, engineer, dancer, football player) puts in countless hours and lots of sweat to get really good at what he or she does. This then, is what I must continue to do.

Every piece I’ve written since July has been one piece further along the path. I have built momentum. I know if I stop now, I will only have to start all over again someday. It’s true, I’m not as good as those other writers. But this is not the time to pull the pin.

Feeling inferior is just another trick, another excuse to not do the work.

This isn’t the vague promise I made seven years ago to participate in NaNoWriMo, or the wistful desire I used to have for my future. It’s me, finally getting serious about my life. Writing is in me. It's always been there, reminding me: This is why you came. This is why you came.

Because yet. I’m not as good as those other writers yet.

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